It was one of the traders at the farmers market that brought the festival to Gheorghe’s attention. Bob was a nice old bloke, easy going and amiable even when it was pissing down with rain and he hadn’t made his target earnings. Gheorghe silently thanked the market inspector for setting his pitch next to Bob’s. Not everyone in the surrounding area was as welcoming as Bob of the obvious foreigner in their midst. Talk got around when new faces appeared in the village. Eyes followed him everywhere. They all knew he’d been brought in to help out at the Saxby place. Now here he was peddling his homemade cheese at the market. Gheorghe knew it wasn’t everyone but some definitely looked at him like he had ideas above his station at the Saxby farm. He tried to brush it off but the whispers and stares sometimes made him pine for his simple life back in Romania.
“Aye lad, you should definitely get your name down for it. Might get some big orders.” Bob pressed on, arranging his handmade sausages on the table top.
“I am not sure I will have time to make enough for a big order.” Gheorghe chuckled.
“You need to find yoursel’ a good woman t’help you out, lad.” Bob winked.
Gheorghe froze, a blush creeping over his face. He’d known Bob for nearly a year but they rarely spoke beyond the weather, their produce or the economic conditions. Bob had no idea that his place at the Saxby farm was anything more than that of a well-respected immigrant worker. Nobody at the market did. It was hard enough to be the Romanian immigrant taking much needed jobs from local lads without bringing his sexuality and relationship with Johnny into the mix. It didn’t matter that the local lads didn’t know one end of a sheep from the other, some of the elder landowners didn’t believe in paying folk to work if they weren’t born and bred within a ten mile radius.
“Ey lad, you already got yoursel’ a good woman eh?” Bob joked when he saw the expression on Gheorghe’s face.
Gheorghe thought about his John. Not a woman by any means, god no, but good all the same. He cracked a smile at Bob to distract him.
“I have the help of a good woman. Deirdre.”
Bob laughed heartily. “Aye, she’s a good one. When you get used t’her.”
Gheorghe busied himself with setting out his stall and chatted to a few regulars as they passed by. The market didn’t really get busy until nearer lunchtime. When most of your clientele are farmers you understand that their mornings are hectic.
“Hello Gheorghe.” A gentle, high pitched voice greeted him.
He looked up and smiled warmly at the new arrival. Sophia Madden was the youngest granddaughter of an old farming family with land bordering on the Saxby farmstead. At nineteen she was a full decade younger than Gheorghe but was bright enough that they could easily converse about things they had in common.
“Sophia! How lovely to see you today. Are you well?”
Her pretty hazel eyes sparkled as she spoke. “I am. What’s this? New product? Don’t remember testing this one out for you.” She teased.
Gheorghe grabbed a toothpick and stabbed a small cube of cheese from the sample platter on the table. Sophia cupped his hand and leaned in to take the cube with her teeth, her eyes falling closed as the flavour burst on her tongue.
“Mmm Gheorghe...that’s amazing! Is that...fennel?”
Gheorghe beamed happily. “Yes! I am happy you like this. Bob was telling me about a cheese festival and I was thinking about which cheeses to take along.”
Sophia nodded firmly. “That one, definitely.”
His proud smile was going to take some shifting. “Thank you.”
A distant figure called Sophia’s name and she waved to the person to acknowledge them. “Duty calls. See you next time.”
“Have a good day.” Gheorghe waved her off.
When he turned back to work he caught Bob staring at him with his mouth hanging open.
“Wha’ were that?”
Gheorghe frowned. “What?”
“You n’her? You got summat goin on?”
“What? No!” Gheorghe was quick to shut that down. “Not at all!”
“Oh? It certainly looked like summat.”
Gheorghe blushed furiously and shook his head. “It is only friends. That is all.”
“Alright lad. Mind you, you could do worse.” Bob told him with a wink.
On the drive back to the farm Gheorghe’s brain was stuck on a loop going over Bob’s words. He’d never considered that his irregular but enthusiastic chats with Sophia could be deemed as more than just two people being friendly. It bothered him that perhaps he was leading her on, presenting himself as single and straight when he was absolutely neither. The mood settled over him when he arrived back at the farm and began to transfer the leftovers from the van to the storage fridge in the barn.
“Sup w’your face?” Johnny questioned when he watched Gheorghe work, his expression showing that he was still unable to shake the perturbed feeling that had lodged in his mind.
“It’s nothing.” Gheorghe answered bluntly.
Johnny rolled his eyes skyward at the deflection. He was the fucking king of deflection and he wasn’t going to let Gheorghe get away with it any more than the other man did when he was playing up.
“S’that right? Come on then. We’ve got time for a break.” Johnny tilted his head to the stacks of hay in the opposite side of the barn, built up in a way that had a secret little spot in the middle they could sneak away into during the day if the urge got too much for them to last until nightfall.
Gheorghe shook his head. “I have work to do.”
“We’ve both got work t’do, love. But I wanna take a break. Come on.”
“No John!” Gheorghe snapped, his dark curls bouncing as he snapped at his partner.
“Well tell me what’s botherin you then cause you never turn down a blowjob in the middle of t’day.” Johnny smirked, knowing he had pushed Gheorghe just far enough to break him.
“There is someone at the market. We are friendly. Bob thinks perhaps there is something between us.” Gheorghe muttered petulantly as he slammed closed the fridge door.
Johnny’s eyebrows rose up to meet his hairline. He might’ve been an absolute fuck up when Gheorghe first exploded into his life but that was a good while ago and he had worked damn fucking hard to be a better person for him. He couldn’t ever pretend to be a moral compass for anyone but as far as Johnny was concerned they were over that hump in their relationship. Now Gheorghe was pulling this out of the bag? What the fuck was going on?
“You’ve bin wi’someone else?” Johnny exhaled harshly, the gravity of it hitting him like a punch in the gut.
Gheorghe reeled around to face Johnny with a look of absolute outrage on his face.
“I have not!”
Johnny swayed on the spot. “I don’t understand...”
“Bob tells me today that there is something between us and that I could do worse. I was being friendly but there is always the people seeing more to it and it has pissed me off.” Gheorghe spat out.
Johnny squinted as he tried to make sense of Gheorghe’s rage. Suddenly he realised that his issue was deeper than just the implication of cheating.
“Did you tell this Bob fella that you’re wi’me?”
Gheorghe shook his head and Johnny’s stomach lurched.
“He now has made me worry I am leading Sophia on and that is not fair. I was only being a friend.”
“Sophia? Hang on...it’s a girl?” Johnny spluttered.
Gheorghe’s wide brown eyes grew wider. “Yes. Sophia from the Madden farm.”
“She’s just a bairn!”
Confusion clouded Gheorghe’s face. “A bairn?”
“A kid. A child!” Johnny grumbled.
“She is nineteen, John. That is not the point I was trying to make. Why should Bob think there is more?”
Johnny threw his hands up in disbelief. “Prob’ly saying as you haven’t told him you’re a poof with a boyfriend, you daft sod!”
“What difference does it make?” Gheorghe was being stubborn as a mule about his perceived issue.
“Obviously enough of a difference for him to match you up with young eligible lasses! You ashamed o’me or summat?”
Gheorghe tossed his overalls into the back of the van and slammed the door. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I am not ashamed. Not of you. Not of me. I do not have to share every detail of my personal life with those men. They judge me for being Romanian already. I do not need to give them more petrol for their fires!”
“I thought you liked Bob...”
“I do! But it is not just Bob. Word will get around like it always does. Did you know, a man came up to me last week to ask how long I have left in this country before Brexit means I have to leave? No interest in my cheese! Just my immigration status! So why should I share anything with those people?”
“Gheorghe...fuck those people. Fuck em all!”
“That is so easy for you to say John. You have always been gay. Always been out. You want me to tell those people that we are together? So what? They can tell me I am with you so I can stay in this country? The country that voted in their masses to get rid of people like me! They already think I have my shoes under the table at the farm!”
“Feet.” Johnny stated.
“Feet under the table. That’s the expression.”
Gheorghe glared mutinously at Johnny. “Thank you for clarifying. I’m going to check on the cows.”
“Hold up. Don’t walk away.” Johnny called out.
“I have nothing more to say.”
Gheorghe spent the rest of the day avoiding human contact, finding god knows what jobs to do in god knows which fields. It was dark when he returned to the farmhouse and his dinner was left in the oven to keep warm. He mumbled his thanks to Deirdre and sloped off to the kitchen to eat it as he stood at the sink.
“Sup wi’him?” Martin stuttered with a tilt of his head to the kitchen door.
“Nowt.” Johnny muttered.
“Go and check he’s alright.” Deirdre hissed at her grandson.
Johnny approached Gheorghe in the kitchen and reached out a hand to touch his partner’s arm. “You alright?”
“Don’t seem like it.”
“Leave it John.”
Johnny watched as Gheorghe scraped his leftovers into a box and rinsed his plate. Even when the world was pissing him off he wouldn’t dream of leaving anything for Deirdre to clear up after him. Then he was gone, mumbling his thanks and a goodnight as he passed through the dining room to the stairs.
The days passed in slow, moody silence until Gheorghe packed up the small van with his cheeses and headed back to the market. Bob was there already, this time with a leaflet about the Yorkshire Dales Cheese Festival, and Gheorghe set about displaying his wares. A few customers trickled by, some stopping to sample the new product Gheorghe was so proud of and buying a small block, and his mood began to lift. This is what he enjoyed. Seeing the positive reaction to his hard work and effort.
“You alright, lad?” Bob asked him when he barely spoke all morning.
“No Sophia today?”
Gheorghe’s blood warmed. “Bob, we are not together. We never will be together. Please do not keep asking me that.”
“Why not? Just ask her out for a drink. She’ll say yes.” Bob grinned, completely missing the effect his words were having on Gheorghe.
“I don’t think so.” A voice spoke from behind Gheorghe and made him drop the wheel of cheese he held in his hands. He whirled around and found Johnny standing with his hands in his pockets and a shy smile on his ruggedly handsome face.
“Why are you here?” Gheorghe mumbled.
“Came to see you.” He replied, waving at Bob over his shoulder.
“Hello Johnny lad. How’s your dad doing?” Bob greeted him enthusiastically.
“Not so bad, not so good. Just gettin on wi’it you know.” Johnny smiled wistfully.
“Aye. Rotten what’s happened to him. Give him my best, and your Nan too.”
“Will do. Any chance you can watch Gheorghe’s stall for a minute while we get a cup o’tea?”
“Course I will.”
Gheorghe rounded on Johnny when they were a few feet away from Bob.
“What is it you think you are doing here John?”
Johnny smiled wickedly. “I’m just sayin hello to my fella.”
“You are here to meddle! You go crazy when Deirdre does this with you!”
“Gheorghe...you came home from here last week in a right fettle and it hasn’t gone away. I came to make sure you’re alright. Cause I don’t give a flyin fuck about cheese, or bein a faggot, or Brexit or anythin else these closed minded bastards are interested in. I care about you and I don’t wanna see you come home like that again.” Johnny cut his rant off with a rant of his own.
“Really?” Gheorghe frowned sadly.
“Really. I love you, you daft bugger.” Johnny chuckled, reaching out one finger to press into the soft padding of Gheorghe’s knitted wool jumper.
Gheorghe’s face lit up in his beautiful smile. The one that made Johnny’s knees tremble and his heart twist in his chest.
“I love you too.”
“Can I kiss you?” Johnny murmured shyly.
“Here? In front of everyone?”
“Yeh. I mean, I’d rather they didn’t watch but I just really want to kiss my boyfriend.”
Gheorghe giggled and pulled Johnny in for what was going to be a brief peck, until their lips touched and ignited a fire in them. Gheorghe cupped Johnny’s cheek in his huge hand and deepened the kiss with his tongue.
“Bloody hell.” Bob’s voice floated across to them. “Didn’t see that coming!”
A soft, feminine giggle followed and made Johnny pull away from the kiss.
“Really Bob? Been waiting for weeks for him to tell me. Ever since I spotted them snoggin in the field behind our paddock.” Sophia chuckled delightedly.
The two men blushed and reached to hold each other’s hands in solidarity.
“I’m very happy for you both. You make a right handsome pair.” She added.
Bob looked like he could be blown away with a feather. Sophia tilted her head to the older man and addressed Gheorghe and Johnny. “Best get him a cuppa while you’re on. Think he needs it for the shock.” She teased.
“Aye. Right.” Johnny agreed in a daze.
The stares still came. Over the next weeks and months as the Brexit debate raged in the media Gheorghe was the target of some curious looks. Nobody said anything to him directly and for that he was thankful. When Johnny proposed, in his own stuttering shy way, about a year after The Great Coming Out it took Gheorghe all of three seconds to accept. He could live with the stares. He could live with the snide comments about his foreign roots. But he could never live without his John.